Posted in Longreads & Essays

An Image of God

Corner Pope

Al totters across the street, dirty bag in one hand, an RC Cola can in the other.
He turns this way and that, comforting a vast congregation that only he can see,
raising the can up and down in a gesture of blessing.
Then he turns toward the street and, setting the can upon a fire hydrant,
he makes the sign of the cross again and again at the passing cars and
blesses the hurried people in them.
After a moment, satisfied with his work at this busy corner,
the grizzled pontiff picks up his scepter,
takes a swig, and moves slowly and quietly away.
As I watch this gentle one walk away, his work unappreciated and
ignored by so many passing, I envy the world in which he lives and the peace he possesses
which we have lost in our creation of this “paradise” known as Chaos of the Numb.
Then I bow my head and receive his blessing . . .

God, this city is your cathedral and the street people are your priests. They give me your blessing when I squeeze their shoulder and press a quarter into their hand. “God bless you.” Simple words that ring in my ears until they sink down into my belly to warm me on a cold winter’s day.

God, you are Deborah, who smiles at me with her rotten toothed smile and who, at the end of our usually brief conversations, bestows upon me a dirty hug and an alcoholic kiss.

God, you are the blind men I have been seeing a lot of lately. I’ve watched in wonder as they have made their way across intersections with nothing to guide them but a red-tipped cane. But they do not go timidly into that uncertain darkness and I have not seen one stumble, amazed at their confidence in the rhythmic tapping of a cane. It is a tapping that has begun to seep down into me to bang against the concrete sidewalks and streets of my soul.

I do not like this “seeing through a glass darkly.” I do not like this mist that swallows me up and leaves me like these blind men groping towards the future without the comfort of my past. All is dark and unknown. I do not like not knowing. But, like the citizens of that other ancient city of Athens, I too must worship at the “altar to an unknown God” in the temple of my heart.

For God, first and foremost, you are and forever must be unknown. You, O God, are mystery. It is when I try to nail you down that I am in danger of missing what new part of yourself that you are revealing to me. And, God, as I should know by now, you do not stay nailed down. You squirm and wiggle your way free from whatever cross I have placed you on to live again and to enter the locked and private chambers where I tremble in fear. I confess, O God, that too many times I have created you in my own image and have used you to justify who I am instead of who I must be.

O God, I thirst for the new wine but with my old skin. Like the snake that sheds its skin, I know that when I let you strip off my shell, I am vulnerable and there is pain. But I also know that for there to be growth, there must be a molting and for there to be new wine there must be new wineskins. Create a space within me for you, O God, and dwell there.

I confess, O God, that many times I think that I am too weak to be of service to you.
When I am weak, you are strong.
Too many times, I have claimed to know you and have locked you out of the inn of my soul.
Give me ears to hear your gentle knocking.
Too many times I have lost myself in the rush and noise of the Holidays and have not experienced the miracle and peace of Christmas.
Place before me a star.
Too many times I have thirsted for power and have forgotten that you delight in the ordinary and in ordinary people.
May I remember that you showed yourself first to a few shepherds and sheep.

God of the mite and the mustard seed;
God of the last and the ordinary;
God of the poor and the powerless;
God of Rahab the whore and blind Bartimaeus;
God of the unknown and the not yet,
God of the little and children;
God of a weak and tiny baby in a manger;
God of Deborah and Al and you and I;
May we, your children, in this season of paradox and peace,
take the Nestea plunge into the loving arms of your mystery and grace.

December 12, 1992

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